Erik Bernard’s “I’ll Be Watching” is a thriller in search of an original idea. The film cannot deliver its intended thrills and fails in the emotional drama.
Artist Julie Alexander (Eliza Taylor) is alone at her first big exhibition waiting for her husband Marcus (Bob Morley), when she remembers she neglected to give her cat its medication. Sister Rebecca (Hanna Fierman) volunteers, heading to Julie’s home, where she is murdered by a masked intruder.
A setup that certainly piques the audience’s curiosity, but the moment of Rebecca’s demise is clumsily handled. She comes in, a masked intruder appears behind her, she struggles to escape, he kills her. The scene is void of tension and fails to achieve its intended shock value.
Months after Rebecca’s murder, Julie (now seeing a psychiatrist played by an unconvincing Bryan Batt) is drinking too much and too often mixing her alcohol with pain pills, prescribed due to an injury to her ankle, which is now in a cast.
Marcus moves them out of the city and into a beautiful two-story house located upstate. When he is abruptly called away for a five-day work trip to Hong Kong, the “nightmare” begins as Julie finds herself alone, a prisoner in a secluded house.
In the wee hours, Julie is awakened by strange noises including the voice of a man whispering her name. Eventually, someone hacks into the house’s high tech security system and begins to speak directly to her in a voice that is meant to be creepy but sounds like a parent telling a child a spooky story.
What follows is a minute-by-minute test of the viewer’s mettle, as ridiculous situations are met with dumb actions by the main character.
Near terrified someone had been watching her and was in the house, one moment finds Julie standing in an open door, at night, clad in only a towel.
Julie has many chances to get out of there in the daylight and never does. This is the age of Uber, after all. Rationality doesn’t play a part in the screenplay.
Perhaps the most serious issue with “I’ll Be Watching” is how its two leads have zero chemistry and fail to convince as a married couple. The sad irony being that Eliza Taylor and Ben Morley are married in real life. That actual husband and wife cannot generate an ounce of believability as an onscreen couple says a lot about their acting skills.
The screenplay (by Elisa Manzini and Sara Sometti Michaels) is a mishmash of theft from much better films. Such pictures as “Gaslight”, “Wait Until Dark”, “When a Stranger Calls”, “Fatal Attraction”, “Scream” (and in the most absurd way, Spike Jonze’s “Her”) have their original ideas plundered and cobbled together to create this preposterous mess. The script throws in a few side characters (suspects) who are all impossibly cartoonish and laughable in their design. Poor David Keith (a fine character actor) is saddled with one scene that doesn’t use his talents and gives him nothing to do.
Erik Bernard does not know how to craft a film. This is a visually empty motion picture. The director cannot grasp how to use his frame to generate tension, nor does he know how to use the score or the editing in interesting ways. From beginning to end, Bernard’s film is dead on arrival.
“I’ll Be Watching” is an excruciating viewing experience that holds one of the most absurd final twists I have ever witnessed.
This is one of the worst horror/thrillers in some time.
I’ll Be Watching
Written by Elisa Manzini & Sara Sometti Michaels
Directed by Erik Bernard
Starring Eliza Taylor, Bob Morely, Bryan Batt, David Keith
NR, 2023, 90 Minutes, Benacus Entertainment/RNF Productions